According to a survey conducted by Gartner of more than 5,000 HR managers in the United States and Europe during 2020, productivity is the second of their concerns, only behind the maintenance of corporate culture. We are facing one of the great pending subjects of management since Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Since the end of the last century, technological advances applied to work environments have not impacted on a significant increase in productivity. In fact, we continue to allocate more and more resources to control work. Thus, since 1983 the number of managers, supervisors and administrators has grown by 112%, compared to a 47% growth in other occupations. This has led, in general, to a greater aggregation of hierarchy layers, proliferation of C-level executives, multiplication of rules and staff teams, with increasingly complex processes and exponential growth of KPIs.

According to wikipedia, productivity is the relationship between the amount of products obtained by a production system and the resources used to obtain said production. In other words, the relationship between the number of tasks completed and the time taken to get them completed. As you can see, there are three fundamental elements in the definition: the time, the results (or completed tasks) and the people (who perform the tasks). From a management point of view, remote work has led to lower levels of supervision. In environments where data was not being used to measure that outcome, management committees have felt they were losing control of their teams’ productivity. This has become very evident in the central services of large corporations, precisely the main clients of the new forms of remote work.

For all those who are incredulous of the ability of employees and middle managers to maintain adequate levels of productivity, despite being absent, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that people who were productive in face-to-face settings, in remote settings will be just as or more productive. The bad news is that those people who were not productive before the pandemic, working from home will be the same or less productive.

In any case, if you need to face the problem of productivity in your company, especially with these new ways of working, you should take into account three different types of management. Starting from the most operational and concrete to the most strategic:

Time management

Believe it or not, few companies spend the time necessary to train their employees on the most efficient way to manage work time or time blocking. Thus, they go from one topic to another without focusing on a single task. Going from one task to another without solving the first is a waste of time, efficiency and productivity. It is equivalent to running for the company ‘like a chicken without a head’ … High-performance teams, on the other hand, learn to recognize those important tasks and segregate them from the urgent ones. They also learn to recognize and protect the focus tasks (those that generate the most value and that, normally, are the ones that the worker enjoys the most). They also learn to recognize essential management tasks (answering emails, writing internal memoranda, etc…) and allocate them the minimum possible time. And, above all, practice something as difficult as ‘Stop starting, start finishing’.

Energy management

One of the most relevant problems of hybrid work environments is the disappearance of the barriers between personal time and work time. In fact, the surveys we carry out with remote workers show that many start their day earlier than in person and, above all, finish it later. It is not that they work longer hours, it is that the distribution of the day is different. The most important thing is to maintain an adequate level of stress during the day. Stress – and lately the associated phenomenon of techno-stress – has a direct correlation with performance and productivity. Thus, a worker subjected to unacceptable levels of stress is an exhausted worker and therefore not very productive.

On the other side of the matrix, a stress-free employee ends up becoming a zombie worker (his body is on the job, his mind and soul are long gone). And it will be very difficult for a zombie to regain its ‘flow’. The important thing is to maintain an adequate level of stress that allows the employee to reach his state of flow, with which he can be focused on his focus tasks

Decision management

This is the most important element. It has to do with aligning what individuals do with what the organization wants. Every organization needs to work with objectives and priorities. It is the way that employees find the meaning, the purpose of what they are doing. In this way, if you know the priorities of the company, you will find the sense of what to do and what not to do. Because if you have 15 tasks and you don’t know which ones are more important and which ones less, you will end up not prioritizing them and being unproductive. As we said in the previous section, you will lose energy and end up ‘burned’. In this sense, the OKR methodology can give an efficient answer.

I like to think that working is like handling Chinese dishes (some of us remember that game that consists of keeping the greatest number of dishes rotating on top of a pole). The important thing is not so much wanting to keep an unlimited number of dishes turning -which is also impossible-, but rather learning to recognize which dishes are made of porcelain -the important ones-. These are the ones that should keep rolling. Plastic plates, if dropped, can be repositioned and re-rolled.

Finally, don’t forget that being productive is a quality that can be learned and improved. Don’t skimp on providing workers and their leaders with the skills they need to improve performance.